Saturday 30 April 2011

Fantastic Four #98. The first men on the moon.

Fantastic Four #98, the Sentry returns, Neil Armstrong and the first moon landing
Just minutes to go before the next episode of Dr Who - the show made famous by my other blog - and, as that episode's seemingly built around the events of the first moon landing, what better time to look at a comic that was similarly inspired by Neil Armstrong's first step on that barren lump of rock?

Or is it barren?

If The Fantastic Four #98's to be believed, beneath that cratered surface lurks a menacing mass of something or other, just waiting to sabotage any attempt by man to set foot there.

Intercepting an alien message, Reed Richards quickly realises it must involve a plot by the Kree to wreck the upcoming moon shot. So, in a rerun of Fantastic Four #64, the FF - minus Sue who has to stay behind to mind the baby and help Alicia Masters look helpless and female - head for a mysterious island where they fight the Kree Sentry at the heart of it all. I'm still not sure if this is the same one they fought last time out or not. There're places where it seems it is and places where it seems it isn't. I suspect Jack Kirby intended it to be the same one and Stan Lee decided it couldn't be.

Fantastic Four #98, Neil Armstrong; One small step for a man...
Either way, thanks to the Thing, they soon clobber it and then, despite its strength-sapping ways, clobber the Sentry's underground moon-landing-sabotage-machine TM. The moon shot's saved and Neil Armstrong gets to plant boot on dust. Interestingly, while he fluffed his, "One small step for a man," speech in real life, in the world of Marvel Comics, he gets it right.

You do wonder how much attention the Kree have been paying over the years. By the time this tale was published, the Fantastic Four'd already been to the Andromeda Galaxy and - even more impressively - the home world of Kurrgo, Lord of Planet X. So I suppose you can question why the Kree thought it so vital to sabotage NASA's relatively modest efforts. You also wonder why the FF seem to have totally forgotten they themselves have been to the moon more times than I've been to my local supermarket. Judging by this issue's evidence, the Russians also seem to have forgotten that the Red Ghost and his apes've been there too.

There's really not a lot to the tale. As I said earlier, with its, "The Fantastic Four go to an island and fight a Sentry before the island blows up," plotline, it's a straight retread of issue #64 but with the interesting revelation of a long-forgotten alien race removed. I also wonder why there's great play made of the fact the Sentry's island's designed to resemble the surface of the moon, when no reason for this design strategy is ever given or even hinted at.

Fantastic Four #98, Jack Kirby, the Sentry and his mysterious island
Are they sure Jack Kirby was holding back?
Having said that, I do like the artwork. If the claims that have been made over the decades are true and, angry at Marvel's treatment of him, Jack Kirby was holding back in his last couple of years on the strip, it really doesn't show in his pencilling here, which is as obsessively detailed and dynamic as ever.

It's just the lack of new ideas, that disappoints, and the out-of-placeness of an issue dedicated to the real-life moon landing in a fictional world where space travel was commonplace. Given how exciting the first moon landing must've been at the time - and how heroic the crew must have seemed - I can understand why Kirby in particular would want to do his tribute but, in context of the comic, it really doesn't make much sense.

I also can't help wondering just what the Watcher made of having a menacing mass moving about under his home world.

But maybe he was too busy watching the moon landing on TV to notice.

Thursday 28 April 2011

The only wedding that matters round here. Fantastic Four Annual #3.

Fantastic Four Annual #3, dr doom and the royal wedding, splash page
This could be trouble!
April 28th, 2011, and events in good old Blighty are being dominated by one big event - the wedding of Prince Wotsisname to Wotserface.

As you can see, like the rest of the nation, I've been following events closely - and I feel there're two questions that must be asked in response to the forthcoming nuptials.

1) Who are these people and why can't I understand anything they say?


2) What does Dr Doom make of it all?

I have no doubt he makes of it what he made of that other legendary wedding all those years ago, the one between Reed Richards and Sue Storm.

Fantastic Four Annual #3, the wedding of Reed and Sue, Dr Doom, cover
Unlike whoever it is who's getting married tomorrow or Saturday or whenever it is, Reed and Sue didn't come from regal stock but they were still comic book royalty, the bedrock of the team that launched Marvel Comics on its road to greatness. And Fantastic Four Annual #3 was where they finally tied the knot.

Dr Doom, the epic party pooper, is having none of it and uses his newly invented Emotion Charger to make all the world's super-villains angry enough to attack the Fantastic Four's Baxter Building HQ simultaneously.

Fortunately for the FF, their wedding guest list's made up of every super-hero in the world, meaning that, instead of Dr Doom's planned massacre, we get a mass brawl that goes on for page after page after page.

In truth you couldn't call the wedding of Reed and Sue a complex and involved piece of story telling. It's not exactly The Wire. It's just one big fight. But it is probably the greatest fight ever committed to paper. Where else would you see Thor battle the Super-Skrull as the X-Men take on Electro, the Mandarin, Unicorn, the Melter and the Beetle, as Daredevil takes on Hydra while Iron Man tangles with the Mad Thinker?

The wedding of Reed and Sue, mass brawl
Personally I always feel there're two phrases the use of which should result in the instant electrocution of the critic using them.

One is, "Mary Sue."

The other is, "Deus Ex Machina."

But it's impossible not to use the latter cliché here as, after pages of punch-ups, the Watcher appears from nowhere and offers Mr Fantastic free use of any of the handily devastating devices he happens to have in his giant space house. Mr Fantastic chooses what appears to be the Watcher's vacuum cleaner which he then uses to send all the bad guys back to where they came from, and simultaneously robs Dr Doom of all memory of his plans, meaning Reed and Sue are at last able to commence their wedding and finally get some super-nookie.

Despite its dramatic crudity, it's an impossible tale to not love because it gives us what we've all secretly dreamed off; every Marvel hero vs every Marvel villain. The one downside of the tale is Vince Colletta's inking. Although I'm a defender of Colletta's work on Thor, here his work's truly dreadful, thin-lined and sketchy, creating the feeling it was one of his legendary rush jobs.

Happily, that's not enough to detract from all the good stuff the book has to offer, and the tale's highlight has to be Attuma's entire armada showing up, only to be instantly despatched back beneath the waves by Daredevil inadvertently hitting them with Hydra's Vortex Bomb. As Dr Doom could tell you, the best laid plans of mice and menace...

The wedding of Reed and Sue, Reed and Sue kiss

Sunday 24 April 2011

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #198. Easter Eggs-citement for all the family.

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #198, the Fatal Five who twisted time, cover
Hooray! It's Easter - and that can only mean one thing.

Cheese rolling!

And that can only remind us of one thing.

The Big Blue Cheese.

And that can only remind us of one other thing.

The not-so-Big Blue Cheese.

And that can only mean Superboy.

And that can only mean the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Never let it be said that Steve Does Comics is the blog that doesn't know how to do Topical.

Someone probably not wishing Superboy a happy Easter - or a happy anything - are the Fatal Five who, having escaped the forces of good yet again, are out to destroy the Legion of Superheroes by travelling back to 1950s' Smallville, getting rid of Superboy and then setting up a device that'll prevent the sequence of events that first created the Legion.

Legion of Super-Heroes #198, stranded
Jeez, what a bunch of sad sacks!
With Superboy either killed or sent into a coma by the Five (it seems to change from page to page), the plan's going swimmingly and looks destined for nothing but success, except for one thing.

The Fatal Five keep telling the Legion their plans!

All they had to do was go back in time, plant the device, keep quiet about what they'd done and then stand there gloating as their arch-enemies are wiped permanently from the time-line.

But, oh, no, every single time a member of the Fatal Five encounters a Legionnaire in this tale, he/she has to start blabbing off about their scheme, enabling the Legion to stop them. With these kind of smarts, no wonder none of their schemes ever work.

That aside, it's a pleasant outing from Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum. It's not one of the best tales of their run but it passes the time painlessly. Cockrum's art looks fine, as always, and he clearly has fun with the scenes set in a funfair as he manages to sneak pictures of the Man-Thing, Swamp-Thing and Creature from the Black Lagoon into various panels.

Legion of Super-Heroes #198, the Persuader
Iron Man bursts into action!
I'm not an expert on the Fatal Five, so don't know how long they'd been in the Legion-verse before this issue.

I also don't know what the original thinking behind them was.

I do know that when I read this tale as a kid, The Persuader struck me as bearing more than a passing resemblance to Iron Man, and that Tharok looked suspiciously like the Hulk's Captain Cybor.

I suppose the unstoppable but stupid Validus could be seen as a Hulk-like figure.

Then again, when The Persuader and Emerald Empress are alone together, thanks to his battle axe they remind me of the Enchantress and the Executioner.

Legion of Super-Heroes #198, tentacled monster, Dave CockrumJust which Marvel character the disintegrator-handed Mano is based on (if any) is beyond me.

All of which brings me to my closing question.

The spider in the panel to the left is I suspect a nod to Steve Ditko but where did the multi-tentacled creature in the background originally appear? I'm sure I've seen it before in another book but have never been able to work out where.

If you know where it first appeared, I'd be delighted to hear from you and you could end a mystery that's haunted me for well over thirty years.

Friday 22 April 2011

Son of Satan #1. Daimon Hellstrom gets his house repossessed.

Son of Satan #1, cover
After two years as the lead in Marvel Spotlight, the Son of Satan finally gets his own mag.

As so often with these things, his run in his own title proved less successful than his stint in another, and The Son of Satan vanished from the shelves after just 8 issues.

But this is issue #1 and no doubt hopes were high.

The first thing you notice is that the front cover masthead isn't a patch on the one used in the Son Of's first four appearances in Marvel Spotlight. Why Marvel didn't stick with that original, I have no idea, as I'm of the determined opinion it was the best masthead Marvel created in the 1970s. I mean, seriously, look at it here, and tell me it isn't better than the one used on Son of Satan #1.

But of course that's only packaging. What matters are the contents. After his latest adventure, Daimon Hellstrom returns home, to find his big creepy house vandalised, his late mother's diary stolen and a bunch of dinky little crosses hung upside down near the ceiling. As we all would, he assumes Satan's behind it and, as we all would, enters Hell through the portal in his cellar.

There, he has a quick scrap with some whingeing demons, who seem to have modelled their behaviour on the X-Men's Toad, and has an argument with Satan before returning to the house to be confronted by the real vandal; a masked cornball who calls himself the Possessor.

Son of Satan #1, the Possessor
The Possessor is a somewhat charmless individual with a couple of demons' heads growing out of the side of his face. After doing a load of boasting, and giving us a few glimpses of  some crystals - the loss of which'll no doubt prove to be his undoing - the Possessor then disappears to randomly kill an American Indian before finishing the issue by laughing maniacally.

The obvious limitation of the series comes back to haunt it as, even when it's trying to break away from having Satan as the main bad guy, the Son Of still initially comes up against Satan. The strip really needed to ditch the Devil completely and have the fact that Daimon Hellstrom is his son as a backdrop to the strip, rather than something that constantly intruded on it. Spider-Man only existed because of the thief who killed his Uncle Ben but he didn't come up against that thief every month.

The Son of Satan #1, evil tree
Jim Mooney's artwork's solid enough but not exceptional and his inking's far too heavy-handed in places. It also has to be said his portrayal of Satan isn't a patch on Herb Trimpe's in those first two Marvel Spotlight outings.

There's also a problem of a total lack of a supporting cast. Apart from Hellstrom, there're simply no  characters other than bad guys.

Still, as a story it at least sets things rolling and makes you wonder who the Possessor is, why he has demons' heads stuck out of him and why he wants to kill elderly American Indians. So, it does make you want to read next month's issue, even if you don't get the feeling you'll be reading anything other than a run-of-the-mill mid-1970s Marvel comic.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Who? What? Where? When? Why?

Steve Does Dr Who
Sheffield "TARDIS" image © Copyright David Rogers
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
If you have eyes as sharp as those of the Eagle-Eye Action Man that all right-thinking children still covet, it won't have escaped your notice that Dr Who'll soon be back for a whole new season of sink plungers, bow ties and ridiculously short skirts.

As a lifelong fan, I've been meaning to launch a Dr Who blog for a while and, after a blink-and-you'll-miss-it test run a few months back, the nightmare the world will soon grow to know as Steve Does Dr Who is finally here in its final form.

Basically, each week I'll be giving my thoughts on that week's episode. As my feelings about last year's fare were somewhat mixed, I really have no idea what I'm going to make of the new season. Could it be a descent into doom-laden depression as the show fails to live up to my expectations? Or could it be a happy little hamsters' nest of delight as it delivers just what I demand of a show that I have no doubt I should be starring in?

There's only one thing I do know; in the immortal words of Christopher Eccleston, "It won't be safe."

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Gil Kane: Origins of Marvel Covers.

My post the other day about changes to the cover of The Avengers #59 when the tale was reprinted in Marvel UK's Avengers #86 reminded me of instances where, short of covers to reprint, Marvel UK saw fit to improvise.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #78, Gil Kane
Iron Man #45, Calamity on Campus, Gil Kane cover
A classic example's the cover of Spider-Man Comics Weekly #78 which rather ingeniously recycled the cover to Iron Man #45 for its tale of the Kingpin's raid on ESU during a student protest. So dense am I that when I first saw the Iron Man cover - because I'd seen the Spider-Man one first - I thought the Iron Man pic was some sort of homage to it.

And that brings me to another possible pair of examples.

Spider-Man Comics Weekly #93, the Lizard and the Human TorchSpider-Man Comics Weekly #94, the Lizard and the Human Torch

The covers to Spider-Man Comics Weekly numbers 93 and 94 don't come from the original Amazing Spider-Man comics that contained those stories but, like the covers above, are clearly the handiwork of Gil Kane. As Kane was one of Marvel's top cover artists - and Marvel US rarely went to the trouble of paying its artistic big-hitters to do its UK covers - I'm assuming that, as with Spider-Man Comics Weekly #78, the images were recycled and amended from some other source. But from what mags did that Kane artwork originate? If you happen to know, I'd be delighted to hear from you.

Monday 18 April 2011

Avengers #83. Come on in...

Avengers #83, the Valkyrie. Come on in, the revolution's fine!

Marvel Treasury Editions, they were a grandiose form of madness. Like Goliath, too big to be practical but too big to be ignored. Unlike Goliath, offering us the chance to see the work of our favourite artists reproduced full size.

Marvel Treasury Edition #7, the Avengers, Jack Kirby cover
I only ever had four Treasury Editions, and one of them was #7, The Avengers, which in retrospect had a theme of debuts, featuring as it did, the Avengers debuts of the Panther, the Vision and Yellowjacket.

It featured one other debut.

The first ever appearance of the Valkyrie. But not the Valkyrie we all came to know and love. For this Valkyrie was a villainess with nothing on her mind but treachery.

Not that we know this when we first meet her. Summoned to the Avengers' Mansion by a mystery telegram; the Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow and Medusa meet their summoner, a rampant feminist egomaniac powerhouse who after stoking up their resentment against the male Avengers, leads them on a mission to defeat said group in order to show them that anything they can do, their female counterparts can do better.

The male Avengers are in Vermont for a Halloween parade which includes a Dr T W Erwin and his Parallel Time device.

They're not the only ones, because the Masters of Evil have turned up and are after that device.

Engaging the villains in battle, the Avengers soon find themselves in trouble but are saved when the newly labelled Lady Liberators show up and, despite their relatively puny powers (hair, a wasp's sting, looking good in a leather) easily flatten the Masters of Evil.

Avengers #83, the Valkyrie. Up against the wall, male chauvinist pigs!
That's when the Valkyrie makes her move, knocks out the Avengers and reveals she is in fact the Enchantress out to steal the Dr's device so she can use it to return to Asgard and gain her revenge on such vexing men as Thor, Odin and the Executioner. Happily her magic's no match for the Scarlet Witch's hex power and she's blasted to atoms, leaving Goliath to declare that he hopes it's taught those pesky women the foolishness of that Women's Lib nonsense.

This was always my favourite tale in that Treasury edition. Partly that was because it all looked rather lovely, drawn by John Buscema and inked by Tom Palmer. These days I'm not that keen on Tom Palmer's inking over Buscema, feeling its heavy use of ink smothers Buscema's pencil work a little too much but there's no denying Palmer 's a great inker, so it was always going to look good. I also liked the Halloween parade setting, the return of the Masters of Evil and the cameo appearance by Roy and Jean Thomas as guests at a Halloween party.

Avengers #83, the Valkyrie, John Buscema coverBut however much we might all love to meet Roy and Jean, and re-meet the Masters of Evil, not to mention seeing the Masters of Evil and the Avengers both get whupped by a bunch of girls, the focus is all on one character - the Valkyrie. Even in this one appearance and as a bad guy you can't escape the fact that the Valkyrie's a more interesting character than the Enchantress, meaning it's actually a let-down when the big reveal's made. They've just replaced a cool new villainess with a not so cool old one.

In the end, this is the one real flaw of the tale, that the Valkyrie's potential as a baddie's totally wasted. The woman can throw cars around with her bare hands and has flying horses but our glimpse of her in action is limited to just two panels and then, the next page, she's completely discarded as a character.

Still, as Medusa could tell you, you can't keep a good hairstyle down and it wasn't long before the Valkyrie was back and giving the Hulk lectures in women's rights, while throwing him off the Empire State Building. Sadly, such talk was as wasted on him as it was on Goliath.

Friday 15 April 2011

Fuzzy sticks, and Kung-Fu action as you like it!

Avengers #59, Yellowjacket's first appearance, John Buscema
Marvel UK, Avengers weekly #86, Yellojacket's first appearance, John Buscema

Just as my ventures into the realms of ego-maniacal super-villainy mean I always need a good cover story, so every comic needs a cover.

This meant that, in the 1970s, as Marvel UK were reprinting material at a faster rate than it'd originally been published, they often commissioned brand new cover pics, to make up for the shortfall.

Sadly, apart from when Jim Starlin was doing the early Mighty World of Marvel covers, the newly produced efforts were a noticeable cut below the reprinted American ones, which meant that when we were given them, the "authentic" covers were all the more welcome.

For the most part, they were reproduced fairly faithfully but there were exceptions like the cover to Avengers #79 in which the Vision was magically redrawn as Thor, and Spider-Man Comics Weekly #40 in which a whole load of white was suddenly introduced. But Rip Jagger's post on his "Dojo" today reminded me of this instance where Marvel UK drastically recoloured the cover to Avengers #59 for the front of their weekly Avengers #86.

Well, the fact I'm from the hometown of the World Snooker Championship and, as a youth, knew only a black and white TV, meant I grew up appreciating snooker in varying shades of grey - and black was my Hyperion.

Maybe that's slanted my perspective but I can't deny I've always preferred the Marvel UK recolouring of this issue to the original US one. In fact, when I first saw the US version, a couple of years back, I couldn't believe how tasteless and garish it seemed compared to what I'd been used to. To my mind, the darker background lends it a greater solidity and subtlety. I also dig the recolouring of the Wondrous Wasp's costume to match that of her dormant fiance. Marvel UK's efforts might have often left us with the fuzzy end of the lollipop but there were times at least when being British meant you got to get a good suck on its sweet end for a while.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

John Romita's all-time Top Ten Spider-Man covers.

Everyone knows this blog's drawn to controversy, like a pyromaniac to a bonfire. Why, I remember when I practically tore the whole Internet asunder as I provocatively suggested Apeslayer might be a rip-off of Killraven. I did likewise when I argued that Leap-Frog isn't as good a villain as Galactus.

Well, I'm in controversial mood again - and that means it's time for another Top Ten to stoke the fiery embers of debate and set the Internet tearing at its own  throat.

It goes without saying that Jazzy John Romita's been one of Marvel's top cover artists and that his defining strip was Spider-Man. Therefore it makes sense for me to at some point compile a list of what, for me, are his all-time ten best Spider-Man covers. These of course are entirely my own opinion and are not to be mistaken for the thoughts of someone who knows what he's talking about.

Amazing Spider-Man #75, death of Silvermane, All-time Top Ten John Romita Spider-Man Covers

10. Amazing Spider-Man #75.
A cover with echoes of Amazing Spider-Man #50 shows our hero unable to bear the fate of some unnamed victim. Yet another reminder that in the real world, super-heroing wouldn't be the fun we all think it would. The reflection of Spider-Man as he  leaves just doubles the sense of a life wasted.

Amazing Spider-Man #66, Mysterio, All-time Top Ten John Romita Spider-Man Covers

9. Amazing Spider-Man #66.
I love the elegance of this layout. Thinking about it, Mysterio's the only Spider-Man villain I could see this composition making sense for. Imagine this image done with the Kangaroo, or the Grizzly instead of Mysterio. They'd look a right pair of berks.

Then again, I suppose they looked a right pair of berks however they stood.

Amazing Spider-Man #86, the Black Widow, All-time Top Ten John Romita Spider-Man Covers

8. Amazing Spider-Man #86.
How do you make the Black Widow look like a threat to Spider-Man?

Simple. You show her as a shadow. This allows you make her seem impersonal and huge at the same time.

Somehow, from her imperious stance, you get the feeling she's Spider-Man's superior in every way, even though we all know she isn't.

Amazing Spider-Man #50, Spider-Man quits, All-time Top Ten John Romita Spider-Man Covers

7. Amazing Spider-Man #50.
Spider-Man quits. It's certainly the most iconic Spider-Man cover John Romita ever did, though it's not quite my favourite. Never has super-hero seemed more alone in the world than Peter Parker. Even his alter-ego seems to have turned his back on him - even though it's the other way round once you open the mag.

Amazing Spider-Man #67, Mysterio's giant hands, All-time Top Ten John Romita Spider-Man Covers

6. Amazing Spider-Man #67.
A spider-sized Spider-Man being menaced by giant hands? If that doesn't make you want to buy a comic what will?

Even though we're left in no doubt that Spider-Man's tiny, still we're looking up at him, to heighten the sense of peril from that hand sneaking up on him from behind.

Amazing Spider-Man #68, student protest, All-time Top Ten John Romita Spider-Man Covers

5. Amazing Spider-Man #68.
Inside, Spider-Man's got nothing to do with the student protest. It's just an obstacle to his fight with the Kingpin, but the cover gives the impression that he's leading it. If any cover can be viewed as a deliberate statement that Spider-Man was well and truly a part of 1960s' youth culture, this was it.

Amazing Spider-Man #72, the Shocker, All-time Top Ten John Romita Spider-Man Covers

4. Amazing Spider-Man #72.
None of that humdrum literalism for us as the Shocker blasts a Spider-Symbol to rubble. One look at this pic tells us you don't mess with the Shocker.

Well, not unless you have the means to glue his thumbs together.

Spectacular Spider-Man #2, the Green Goblin, All-time Top Ten John Romita Spider-Man Covers

3. Spectacular Spider-Man #2.
Just how mad, bad and dangerous to know does the Green Goblin look? Spider-Man's anatomy is wildly exaggerated but it all adds to the dynamism.

Amazing Spider-Man #65, Spider-Man in jail, All-time Top Ten John Romita Spider-Man Covers

2. Amazing Spider-Man #65.
Can it be?

Spider-Man on the side of the criminals?

I love the intent and intrigue of this cover, not to mention that Spider-Man pretty much breaks down the fourth wall, seemingly fully aware of our presence as, dwarfing the other figures, he heads straight for us.

Amazing Spider-Man #59, Mary Jane Watson dances, her first ever cover appearance. All-time Top Ten John Romita Spider-Man Covers

1. Amazing Spider-Man #59.
I like this image so much that every time I see this issue for sale on eBay, I find myself bidding for it.

Mary Jane gets her first ever cover as Spidey polishes off the Kingpin's flunkies. How could anyone not love the contrast between the oblivious and happy go-lucky Mary Jane and the business-like violence of Spider-Man mere feet away from her? How great the gap is between their worlds but also how tiny.

Out Now:
Can Liz Sanford solve the mystery of the sarcophagus that can't stop killing? Only The Mummy Shrugged can tell you. Available from Amazon.Com, Amazon UK and Smashwords.

Monday 11 April 2011

Killraven's War of the Worlds: Amazing Adventures #35, the 24-Hour Man.

Killraven, War of the Worlds, Amazing Adventures, the 24-hour man, cover

IAmazing Adventures #35, Killraven encounters the 24-Hour Man - and, just his luck, it turns out not to be an emergency plumber. Instead it's a bright green man who only lives for 24 hours but whose mind contains the memories of his entire race, a race which is seemingly never composed of more than two beings at a time; the latest 24-Hour Man and his more long-lasting father, G'Rath, a huge green, death-dealing monster.

Because of this, each new 24-Hour Man has to find his father a new mate before he croaks and takes his entire race's memories with him In the absence of any other females, he decides Carmilla Frost is just the woman to be the mother to the next generation.
Killraven, War of the Worlds, Amazing Adventures #35, the 24-Hour Man. Carmilla Frost meets G'Rath

As this involves being impregnated by a giant green monster, Carmilla Frost thinks otherwise and Killraven and his never-merry men set out to save the day - although in truth they don't seem all that concerned for her welfare. I don't see any words along the lines of, "We must save Carmilla!" anywhere. But then, when you're busy philosophising about things, what space is there in your heart for urgency?

Killraven, War of the Worlds, Amazing Adventures #35, the 24-Hour Man, G'Rath

I must admit this has always been one of my favourite Killraven tales and may have been the one that first got me into the strip when I was a kid, after my having been unimpressed with my first exposure to it in issue #31. When you get down to it, it's as nonsensical, sometimes bathetic, and futile as all other McGregor Killraven stories, although McGregor's verbosity doesn't in this case detract from the story as much as it might. Somehow his style perfectly suits the subject matter.
Killraven, War of the Worlds, Amazing Adventures #35, the 24-Hour Man, cemetery splash page
So, what's the appeal?

Well, the thing takes place in a cemetery, and it rains a lot, so it's got atmosphere on its side. There's also the fact that the 24-Hour Man's life-cycle and nature are not exactly straightforward, so you have to pay attention to work out what's going on. Sadly, it's not drawn by regular penciller Craig Russell but it is drawn by Keith Giffin, an artist I've always had a lot of time for.

But the truth is that in this case the work looks nothing like I expect Keith Griffin to look, partly because it's inked by Jack Abel who totally disguises Giffin's usual Jack Kirby tendencies but also because the layouts are provided by Craig Russell himself - though the Steve Ditko-ness of certain figures and faces, suggests Russell may have supplied more than just the layouts in places.

In the end, you don't really care about any of the characters, being there as they are to spout speeches and comment on the nature of the world, life, death and anything else that entered McGregor's mind while he was writing, but a mixture of atmosphere and imagery win over to make it a tale you're never likely to forget.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Space 1999 Annual 1978.

Space: 1999 Annual 1978, Catherine Schell, Maya
Come with me, for I am going on a journey of discovery, a voyage to amazing places, in which I'll be learning all kinds of things I never knew before and see all sorts of incredible sights.

That's right, it's time for me to once more become the Professor Brian Cox of the Internet and blast off into space with the Moonbase Alpha gang and their contingent of groovy spaceships.

"But what's this?" I hear you cry. "What's happened to Barry Morse and how come he's got boobs all of a sudden?"

Sadly, Barry was dropped after the first season and replaced by the legend that is Catherine Schell.

Catherine Schell as Maya, Space 1999 Annual 1978
Catherine Schell welcomes visitors to her
Blackpool boarding house, which may or
may not exist.
Her friends know her as Catherine Schell but we all know her as Maya. We also all know her I think as the greatest woman who ever lived. There are a million billion zillion trillion creatures in the universe, all made of the same stuff as stars - and Catherine Schell can transform herself into any of them.

I was also once told by someone I knew that Catherine Schell is the mother of Matthew Waterhouse who played Adric in Dr Who and that she used to run a boarding house in Blackpool. Granted I've never seen any evidence at all to back up either of these claims but it shows the sheer awesomeness of the woman that, thanks to her, I once found myself in what seemed to be an alternative dimension where Maya from Space: 1999 runs a Blackpool boarding house, and people from science fiction shows are all related purely by virtue of having been in science fiction shows.

Space 1999 Annual 1978, costume
Why do I get the feeling the third actor in this shot got himself a new
agent straight after filming this?
But even with a new crew member in place, there's still a daily dose of trauma to be overcome by the Moonbase Alpha team, and so we kick-off the 1978 annual with a prose adaptation of the episode in which Maya was recruited to Moon Base Alpha after her father turned out to be not just Brian Blessed but evil. I'd tell you if the adaptation's any good but, frankly, these days I only read stories that have pictures, so I couldn't say.

Next we get an interview with Catherine Schell, in which she mentions neither Matthew Waterhouse nor Blackpool. My suspicions are starting to grow.

Now we get another prose tale about yet another treacherous alien.

Next we get a Spot the Difference page. I'm proud to announce I've spotted several differences and have thus proven I am at least the intellectual equal of a child.

After this, we get what we all really came for - a picture strip. In it, Moonbase Alpha's reunited with Earth, only to discover that, in their absence, it's been overrun by evil vegetation - so they don't like it any more and refuse to live there the fussy so and so-s. So what? My garden's full of evil vegetation and it doesn't put me off living on the planet Earth. On the upside, Maya turns into a gorilla.

Next we get a page of cartoons.

Now another Spot the Difference page. Again, I spotted several differences - proving beyond all doubt that I have a level of intellectual development at least on a par with a child.

Then there's a board game that's clearly based on Monopoly - as all board games devised for annuals seemed to be.

Next, we get a one-page quiz about matters Outer Space. I'm proud to declare I got some of the answers right, proving not only that I am indeed the new Professor Brian Cox but that I'm also at least the intellectual equal of a child.

Next, we get a pin-up of Barbara Bain.

Then we get another prose story about treacherous aliens. This time, they're one-eyed treacherous aliens, so it's a not altogether positive portrayal of the disabled.

Now there's a two-page quiz testing your knowledge of Moonbase Alpha and its staff. I think I've got all the answers right, proving once again that I have intellectual capabilities at least on a par with a child.

Next we get a pin-up of Tony Anholt.

And now we get yet another prose story - this time the Alphans encounter a horny monster called the Beast of Bokassa. Presumably they met it just after seeing off the Beast of Pol Pot. Like the villains in the previous story, the Beast of Bokassa also has only one eye.

After all this verbal story-telling, at last we get another picture strip, as Moonbase Alpha and some aliens find themselves having a fight to see who should get the right to colonise a planet they've just discovered. Needless to say those sneaky aliens can't be trusted but, for once, they at least have a full complement of eyes.

Now we get another Spot the Difference page. I'm proud to say I've spotted several differences, proving once and for all that I have a level of intellectual development at least equal to that of a child.

Next we get a one-page quiz challenging us to decipher an alien message. I'm proud to say I deciphered it, proving that... ...well, you get the picture.

Now there's a couple of pages devoted to stills from the show, which've had humorous captions added to them. It includes this joke; "Where do astronauts leave their space ships?" A great big Steve Does Comics No-Prize goes to the first person to come up with the correct answer as published in the annual.

They always say you should never part on a cross word but the annual does just that by parting with a  crossword. I'd like to boast that I completed it and proved I have at least the intellectual development of a child but the crossword's missing, having for some reason been cut out by me at some point. I of course did this because back then I had the intellectual development of a child.

So there you have it, My bid to become the nation's best-loved space expert - and I didn't even have to show everyone a load of satsumas representing all the stars in the universe to do it. It wasn't an entirely happy journey. I discovered that 99% of aliens can't be trusted and neither can anyone with only one eye. I learned that even the mighty Barry Morse can be replaced, and that nuclear piles might not be as painful as any other kind of piles you might get but they can't half play havoc with your orbital arrangements.

Thursday 7 April 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #2. A cellar-full of aliens.

Amazing Spider-Man #2, the Terrible Tinkerer, Steve Ditko
As I roam the streets of Sheffield, people say to me, "Steve, why're you roaming the streets of Sheffield? Why aren't you at home, listening to The Organist Entertains on Radio 2?"

I tell them, "I can't. My radio's knackered."

"Then why don't you take it to a repair shop?" they say. "I hear the prices can be highly reasonable."

"Because," I point out, "I live in fear that aliens might put listening devices in it that they'd then use to learn secrets vital to the security of the Earth."

"But, Steve," they say, "you're poor and ignorant. What could you possibly know that could help aliens?"

I just tap the side of my nose, knowingly, and walk off into the night, as the gasometers beyond the Wicker Arches loom ever closer.

If only Doctor Cobbwell had had my sense but, in Amazing Spider-Man #2, devoid of my innate understanding of the dangers of cheap repair shops, he's taken his mighty wireless to the Tinkerer to be mended. It's only when he sends his part-time science-lackey Peter Parker to collect it for him that the truth of the Tinkerer's scheme is unearthed.

Tipped off by his Spider-Sense that all's not well with the radio, Spidey soon discovers an alien plot of exactly the kind I described above.

Happily, despite almost being vacuumed to death, our hero makes short work of the aliens, and the world is free once more to listen to Janice Long in peace.

Amazing Spider-Man #2, the Terrible Tinkerer, aliens, I must warn Steve!
As we all know, it was compulsory for all Marvel heroes to face aliens as soon as possible after their creation, and Amazing Spider-Man #2 is where Spidey gets his turn. Compared to Thor's battle with the Stone Men from Saturn, it's low-key stuff. In truth it's even low-key compared to the Hulk's less than pulse-pounding early scrap with the Toad Men. But that doesn't rob it of its essential charm. Mostly thanks to Steve Ditko's artwork, this has always been one of my favourite early Spider-Man tales.

I'm fully aware there're people out there who think the Terrible Tinkerer story is very silly and, being about aliens, has no place in a strip supposedly rooted in the real world, like Spider-Man is. And those people are probably right but, as far as I'm concerned, if Spider-Man can have adventures with Killraven and Red Sonja, there's no reason he can't fight aliens.

Sadly, years later it was retconned that the aliens weren't really aliens at all. They were just a bunch of petty crooks, including a young Mysterio, who were in the habit of dressing as and talking like aliens just in case anyone snuck into their underground lair and overheard their plans.

On top of that, we were told the Tinkerer, who, here, at the climax, is revealed to be an alien too, was merely wearing a mask of his own face to disguise the fact that he was really who he seemed to be all along.

I would say this is the worst retcon you could possibly imagine - attempting to explain away a silly story by coming up with an explanation that's actually sillier than the story you're trying to explain away. But I should never forget the average comic book company's infinite capacity for generating terrible retcons, and so I wouldn't risk so bold a statement.

What I am happy to risk saying is that I don't care what any later tales said. As far as I'm concerned, in May 1963, the amazing Spider-Man came up against a bunch of aliens and sent them packing, even if one of them did think he was really Mysterio. I like to feel space travel can have that sort of effect on an alien. And you know what? I'm sure Janice Long does too.

Monday 4 April 2011

Steve Does Comics comes to a sticky end.

1970s DC super-hero stickers
Superman Action Comics #440, Nick Cardy
As I said in yesterday's post about the Marvel stickers I so desired as a youth, I have to admit that although I was more of a Marvelite than a DC fan, I was always more impressed by the DC stickers than the Marvel ones. Somehow the DC ones always seemed slicker and more stylish, although I have to say the Marvel stickers now seem brighter, more dynamic and more varied, to my adult eyeballs.

This particular ad comes from Action Comics #440 and I was especially taken with the Batman sticker - which I believe was taken from a Neal Adams' Batman/Joker story - as well as the Green Arrow and Gil Kane's Green Lantern.

The other thing that strikes me now, looking at that ad, is you only got 14 stickers for $2.50, whereas you got 18 Marvel stickers for the same money.

I don't know, somehow in the 1970s, Marvel always managed to steal a march on DC, even - it seems - when it came to sticky-back plastic.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Stuck up? Moi? Chance'd be a fine thing.

1970s Bronze Age Marvel stickers
First of all a big thank you to Terence Stewart of the Mighty World of Bronze Age Marvel for giving this site a plug and for posting a picture of Six-Armed Spider-Man. As we all know, Six-Armed Spider-Man was the best idea ever in the history of comics and I'll fight to the death anyone who says otherwise.

People who I won't be fighting to the death are the people on the left, who I'm sure you're aware have super-powers, while I don't.

I am of course referring to the super-heroes, not the kid who's touching Thor in a place I don't think Thor would like to be touched.

But, as for those super-heroes, why would I want to fight them when I can instead spend all my time sticking them to everything in sight?

I'll admit it, when I was a youth, there were certain things I couldn't see advertised in a comic without wanting, and super-hero stickers were top of that list.

At the time, both Marvel and DC ran ads for their stickers and, treacherous though it was of me - me being far more of a Marvelite than a DC fan - it was the DC stickers I wanted most. I'll be blathering on about the those DC stickers in my next post - providing I can find some pictures of the ones in question - but here's the Marvel ones I always wanted; in this case taken from the pages of Strange Tales #181.

It does always strike me that there are some items that are conceptually self-defeating.

Strange Tales #181, Jim Starlin's WarlockA cake is one of them.

A cake's only any use if you eat it but once you've eaten it, it's not a cake any more and its ability to give you pleasure's gone.

Erasers in the form of cute animals are another. You can't use them without destroying them but if you don't use them, they're not erasers.

Stickers too fall into this category. They're only stickers if you stick them to something but, once you've stuck them to something, you can never use them again, meaning that by using them you've ruined them.

Still, even though I knew this, it never put me off. And, as I roamed the streets of Sheffield, I always kept my eye out just in case a pack of Marvel stickers should hove into view.

Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. They simply weren't available in this country and, in order to send off for them, you had to pay with some weird thing called dollars. The only people in the UK who used dollars were the policemen in Z-Cars. Why the policemen in Z-Cars were always going on about paying for things in dollars, when they lived in Liverpool, I'll never understand. Then again I'll never understand why they never seemed to have Scouse accents or why they never noticed that one of them was Brian Blessed.

But, ultimately, none of that mattered. With them being fictional, I doubt they'd've supplied me with the dollars I needed anyway.